Canadian leader visits Peking to boost business ties

As with foreign dignitaries who once visited imperial China, Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney brought a modern kind of ``tribute''' to his Chinese hosts. This was in the form of interest-free loans for financing the purchase of Canadian goods and a promise of increased development assistance.

A less generous observer might say the ``tribute'' money accounted for the Canadian leader's unusually friendly reception during his three-day stay in Peking. In fact, Canada's relations with China have been quite good for many years.

Prime Minister Mulroney, who left China for South Korea yesterday, came to China directly from the Tokyo economic summit and personally briefed top Chinese leaders on that meeting.

In his discussions with paramount leader Deng Xiaoping and others, he also emphasized Canada's readiness to do business here, reminding them of a relationship free of the political and historical problems that often cloud China's relations with the United States and Japan. Canada recognized China in 1970 and before that, never opened a diplomatic mission in Taiwan.

As a former businessman who had visited China before, Mulroney was not only promoting economic relations.

During a 30-minute meeting with Premier Zhao this past weekend, he said he raised the issue of human rights, specifically citing ``the situation with certain members of the clergy.'' In comments to the press yesterday, Mulroney would not give any more details, saying only that he had put the question of human rights ``directly,'' though in a spirit of friendship and not in a spirit of hostility. ``I expect we'll be hearing more from the premier on this issue,'' he said.

Mulroney's offer of concessional loans to finance Chinese imports amounted to $252 million (US). He also promised to double Canada's development assistance over the next five years to $144 million.

Western diplomats say the credit offering certainly will give Canada an edge as China, a country with a foreign exchange shortage, shops on international markets for telecommunications, hydroelectric, agricultural, and aviation equipment.

Canada has suffered a sharp decline in wheat sales to China and has been promoting high-technology products as a good fit with China's modernization program.

Canada is rated as one of China's ``old friendly trading partners.'' But some Canadians note that their ``friendship'' with China, which began in the early 1960s, has not prevented a drop-off in trade as China has stressed competitiveness in its foreign economic relations.

Asked if the offering of concessional financing would stoke a trade-subsidy war with the US, the Canadian prime minister said: ``The Americans are way ahead of us . . . and very ingenious when it comes to financing export credits and the sale of American products abroad, including China.''

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